Sound and vision blog

19 posts categorized "Resources"

31 May 2022

Covid-19 Testimony Project Database launch

Today, the British Library publishes a database of testimony collections that were created over the last two years, which document the UK's experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In this blog Lucy Pinkney, Covid-19 Testimony Project Researcher, writes about her work on the database.

CDC model of CoronavirusThis illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS.

I think we can all say that Covid-19 turned our world upside down. Nearly two years of social distancing, wearing masks and living in ‘bubbles’ has changed how we see the world and other people. For oral history, the pandemic completely threw face-to-face interviews out of the window, and so we have had to adapt.

This database was created as a way to document Covid-19 testimony projects around the UK and to enable people to do their own research into these projects to find out more about peoples lives during the pandemic. Without the ease of face-to-face interviews, we have had to get creative. Many of the projects included in the database relied on online submissions of personal diaries, artwork and photography (amongst other things) to reflect on how our lives changed during the pandemic. It includes a range of areas across the UK, such as London boroughs like Hackney, cities like Birmingham and Bristol, and also groups of people such as the d/Deaf community and the LGBTQ+ community. By collating these projects, it gives a voice to the lives of these people during the pandemic.

During my temporary job as Covid-19 Testimony Project Researcher, I  communicated with over 150 projects that fit the criteria of being a Covid-19 testimony project. Many of the projects were collated during the first and second wave of lockdowns in the UK, but I also did some research myself to find if there were any more recent projects. I had many positive responses to my emails, and I have slowly been able to update the database so that it can be made publicly available. Some of the information that is in the database includes how the testimonies were made, such as written or audio diaries, interviews or photographs, and other information like the archive that material is kept in and who to contact to find out more.

When researching the projects, I did discover some of my favourites, and many of them were projects from smaller areas in the UK or specific groups of people. I found that reading about their lives during the pandemic made me really think about how each person was impacted differently. Many of the projects mentioned how the communities came together to support one another, and to see that in diary form or even photographs is really inspiring. I also found that each organisation who decided to do a testimony project all had the same motivation: that we are living in such a unique time that it should be documented for future generations. This resonated the most with me, as despite the fear and worry that has clouded the last two years of our lives, we are living through a unique time, and it brings me joy to see communities coming together and documenting their lives for future generations.

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The database - collated by the Oral History team - can be found on the Covid-19 Collection Guide. The database can be downloaded as a spreadsheet and is an open resource for further research and re-use.

With thanks to Camille Johnston for managing the development of the database over the last two years and supervising Lucy Pinkney.

12 January 2022

Voices of British theatre design: Explore the world of theatre behind the scenes

Listen to theatre practitioners speak about their lives and work, their favourite productions, professional networks and the design process from scale model to stage set.

Voices of British theatre design is a new British Library website featuring over 50 audio clips from National Life Stories recordings. Interviewees include set and costume designers, scenic artists, directors and actors. The audio clips are presented within a series of 12 articles written by theatre practitioners. In every article, authors and interviewees draw on their technical knowledge and creative practices to reveal what happens behind the scenes, while weaving in personal reflections on the profession itself.

The website is divided into five themes: costume design, the design process, directors and designers, scale models, and set design. There are vivid descriptions of stage scenery, techniques for model making, the use of 3D design technology, and how to manage what the audience sees (and doesn’t see) from their seat. Contributors to the website also address wider questions on roles and relationships in theatre, and how to get started. What is theatre design education like? How reliable is the job market, and how has this changed over the years? What is it like to interpret a script, collaborate with directors, and engage with actors during costume fittings?

To celebrate the launch we’ve picked three clips highlighting different design elements that are explored on the website: model making, stage scenery, and costume design. Interestingly, in each case the interviewee mentions how their work impacted others involved in the production process. Scroll down to hear extracts from life story recordings with Lis Evans, Jocelyn Herbert, and Billy Meall.

Lis Evans talks about making, painting, and clothing miniature figures for her models

Assorted figures in a box, used for theatre design models
Assorted figures. Courtesy Lis Evans. Image not licensed for reuse.

Lis Evans (born 1965) is Head of Design at the New Vic Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. In this clip she describes how she creates model figures from scratch using a variety of materials. The use of figures is an essential element of both her design process and how she presents the design to others.

This audio clip features in Peter Farley’s article, Communicating design: Creating a world.

Lis Evans on making figures for models (C1173/15)

Download Lis Evans transcript

The New Vic Theatre is ‘a theatre in the round’, where the stage is completely surrounded by the audience. Evans became Head of Design in 1991 and has designed over 120 productions during her time in this role.

Lis Evans was recorded by National Life Stories for An Oral History of British Theatre Design in sessions between 2006–2007. The interviewer was Elizabeth Wright. A written summary of the full interview can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. Listen to the full interview on BL Sounds.

Jocelyn Herbert shares a surprising fact about Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal

Painted drawing by Jocelyn Herbert for Baal, showing an interior scene
Set drawing by Jocelyn Herbert for Baal by Bertolt Brecht (world premiere, Phoenix Theatre, 1963). Drawing © Estate of Jocelyn Herbert, from the Jocelyn Herbert Archive, housed in the National Theatre Archive. Image not licensed for reuse.

In this clip from her 1992 recording with Cathy Courtney, theatre designer Jocelyn Herbert (1917–2003) sets the scene for the world premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal. Brecht (1898–1956) was a German playwright and poet. He established the Berliner Ensemble theatre company with actor and director Helene Weigel, his wife, in 1949 in East Berlin.

This audio clip features in Roma Patel’s article, Stage design: 2D to 3D.

Jocelyn Herbert on projections for Baal (C465/13)

Download Jocelyn Herbert transcript

The play, Baal, was not performed until after Brecht’s death, and the first performance was not even produced by the Berliner Ensemble. It was in fact first staged at the Phoenix Theatre in London, in 1963. Jocelyn Herbert designed the play, and it was directed by Bill Gaskill (William Gaskill, 1930–2016) with actor Peter O’Toole in the title role.

Herbert talks about her preparatory drawings and models – Brecht’s script ‘lit up your imagination’ – and the technical process of designing projections for the stage using 1960s technology. She mentions working with Richard Pilbrow, who was the lighting designer for Baal, and his team to produce and install the projections. Herbert’s drawings for Baal can be seen in her archive at the National Theatre Archive.

Between 1985 and 1993 Jocelyn Herbert was interviewed by Cathy Courtney. The recordings are archived at the British Library and can be accessed on BL Sounds. Written summaries of the recordings can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

Billy Meall’s costume design for Shakespeare’s Richard III

Paul Jesson as Richard III, wearing a costume made by Billy Meall
Paul Jesson playing Richard III, wearing a costume made by Billy Meall. The costume featured a pebble in the boot to create a limp, and a glove with sewed up fingers. Projections in the background. Everyman Theatre. Photographer unknown. Courtesy Billy Meall. Image not licensed for reuse.

Theatre designer Billy Meall (born 1947) describes the terrifying costume he created for Shakespeare’s Richard III. The costume featured a shrunken hand, armour with a spiked hump, and a painful boot that caused the actor Paul Jesson to drag his leg around the stage. Paul Jesson (born 1946) is an Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

This audio clip features in the article On actors and costume design, by actor Eric Potts.

Billy-meall-designing-the-costume-for-richard-iii

Download Billy Meall transcript

In another clip, Meall talks about learning the craft from a costume supervisor called Cathy Alger, who he worked with at the Liverpool Playhouse at the start of his career. He was resident designer at the Liverpool Playhouse until 1998, after which the management of the Playhouse was merged with the Everyman Theatre.

Billy Meall was recorded by National Life Stories for An Oral History of British Theatre Design in 2006. The interviewer was Elizabeth Wright. A written summary of the full interview can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. Listen to the full interview on BL Sounds.

Voices of British theatre design was produced by Cathy Courtney, Camille Johnston, Mary Stewart, and Elizabeth Wright. We would like to thank article authors, interviewees, and image donors, who are fully credited on the 'About the project' page. National Life Stories is very grateful to The Linbury Trust for making this website possible.

Blog by Camille Johnston, Voices of British theatre design Web Co-ordinator & Oral History Assistant Archivist, National Life Stories at the British Library.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

01 October 2020

‘Using your eyes as a pen’ – Black British Poets in Performance

By Dr Hannah Silva, British writer and performer and Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London.

Paula Varjack
Paula Varjack selfie.

“What you actually do is you use your eyes as a pen,” David J is telling me how he learned to freestyle, “off the dome.” We’re sitting in a studio at the British Library, recording an interview for an archive: Black British Poets in Performance.

David J developed his craft out loud. When freestyling “it’s your life really that gets played out.” He describes hiding in a corner: “a silent child hears more.” He picked up vocabulary from books in the family home, medical journals and the Encyclopedia Britannica, and integrated it into his freestyling, “we can have fun ’cause my family is medical so we’re gonnna do vocal autopsies so everyone is… ah! nah he’s gonna rip em apart... nah I’m gonna do it clinically, ’cause mum’s a health visitor.”

Throughout these interviews it becomes clear that writing ‘out loud’ and ‘on the page’ are not differentiated practices, that performance is as much a part of ‘writing’ as writing is performance.

Here’s Anthony Joseph discussing how vocalising a poem can connect you to “other musical ideas”:

Anthony Joseph [47.55-48.24] ref. C1874_1

Download Anthony Joseph transcript.

Vocalisation is a way of embodying writing, engaging not just the ears in listening, but the breath, diaphragm, larynx, and vocal folds. Malika Booker comments that she likes to walk whilst she writes: “because I need to get the rhythm, I need to hear things I need to feel things […] writing is not just a solitary sitting down act.”

In the padded windowless room David J is looking at me, “you see Hannah” and looking around: “you see: speaker” and now he’s inhaling the words and mixing them with “what’s inside of you… your thought.”

David J [17.56-18.33] ref. C1874_15

Download David J transcript.

Kayo Chingonyi comments that “the label of ‘poetry’ has shrunk over the centuries”, that performance has often not been accorded the same importance as “dancing that intellect on the page.” He analyses the racialised aspect of labels such as spoken word and performance poetry and how this is linked “to having bodies”:

Kayo Chingonyi [26.37-27.30] ref. C1874_9

Download Kayo Chingonyi transcript.

Jacob Sam-La Rose discusses the importance of having spoken word and performance poetry in archives that can be accessed by poets developing their craft:

Jacob Sam-La Rose [19.50-20.40] ref. C1874_16

Download Jacob Sam-La Rose transcript.

This is that kind of resource.

These interviews feel groundbreaking because of the depth to which each poet discusses their craft. As Malika Booker says, this is “an artform that needs to be interrogated.” Every interview is over an hour long, and is accompanied by readings. We discuss how labels can exclude, and conversely how self-naming can be a creative act. We have conversations about the Black British voice, the Lyric I, presence, audiences, artistic development, performance poetry criticism, and poetry within theatre. We discuss influences and inspirations, and zoom in on moments of writing and performing.

Booker writes on her feet both at the early compositional stage, and sometimes in performance. In our interview she explains that her poem ‘My Mother’s Blues’ was edited in performance in response to her audience. Initially she wasn’t “sure how to use the ‘pain’.” She wrote “twenty-six drafts, trying to figure it out.” It was only when she did it for an audience that she realised the poem was “important.” Her description provides an example of how the body, voice and audience can all play a part in the writing of poetry, she treated “the performance space as a laboratory.” It also illustrates the interactive joys of a poetry night:

Malika Booker [45.50-52.00] ref. C1847_12

Download Malika Booker transcript.

Other unforgettable moments in this archive include Paula Varjack revealing that her name and performance persona were constructed around a pair of sunglasses. Lemn Sissay, whom I interviewed by a pool in Brazil, demonstrating how he started to deconstruct the moment of performance as it happens, and how he uses gesture as part of his writing (read more here: Lemn Sissay: Defamiliarsation and Performed Palimpsests. There’s Inua Ellams on guerrilla gardening, Karen McCarthy Woolf on vulnerability and hybridity and how trauma made her especially sensitive to sound, and a chat with Raymond Antrobus and Deanna Rodger behind the Latitude Poetry Tent (already a historical event).

Also – we had fun. Here’s Joshua Idehen parodying poetry styles and prosodies:

Joshua Idehen [55.28-56.28] ref. C1874_5

Download Joshua Idehen transcript.

The poets in this archive are there because I wanted to talk to them, and because they were willing to talk to me. My own research interests and my connections and friendships inevitably shaped it. The interviews were recorded several years ago and the poets would record different interviews today, but this archive enables us to, as Sam-La Rose puts it, “chase back movements and ways of thinking.” It is by no means a finished project and I hope it continues to be expanded and that the interviews are an exciting resource that supports further research.

Thank you to all the poets who agreed to talk to me for the archive, and all those who talked to me outside of the British Library context too. So far this archive contains interviews with Raymond Antrobus, Dean Atta, Malika Booker, Kayo Chingonyi, Inua Ellams, Anthony Joseph, Ria Jade Hartley, Joshua Idehen, Keith Jarrett, David J, Chanje Kunda, Deanna Rodgers, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Andra Simons, Lemn Sissay, Mark Mace Smith, Paula Varjack, Indigo Williams and Karen McCarthy Woolf.

The archive was constructed as part of an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with Stirling University and The British Library.

This collection is available in the Library's Reading Rooms and will be online next year. If you would like to browse the collection online, please enter C1874 into the Library's Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

19 November 2018

Recording of the week: Sheila Girling describes fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler

This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

To celebrate the launch of Voices of art we're listening to artist Sheila Girling's (1924-2015) description of fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). 

Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract expressionist artist. Girling gives a detailed illustration of Frankenthaler's gestural and 'spontaneous' painting style. She mentions that Frankenthaler was one of 'Clem's' protegées. This was Clement Greenberg, the influential and at times contentious American art critic.

Sheila Girling was a painter and collagist known for her large abstract paintings and her sensitive use of colour. Born in Birmingham, she lived in Vermont for a short time with her family while her husband, the sculptor Anthony Caro, taught at Bennington College. The couple returned there many times. At Bennington, Girling and Caro were part of a close circle of artists who were experimenting with new artistic techniques. These included Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski.

Sheila Girling on Helen Frankenthaler (C466/296)

Photograph of Sheila GirlingSheila Girling. Courtesy Barford Sculptures Limited

This clip features on the Voices of art website. Voices of art is a new British Library resource that explores the art world behind the scenes through life story recordings with artists, curators and writers. Extracts from oral history recordings accompany a series of essays by writers who have been immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries. To hear more from Sheila Girling, see Hester Westley's article Coaching from the side lines: Sheila Girling and Anthony Caro.

Voices of art is supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

Follow @BL_OralHistory  and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

24 September 2018

Recording of the week: Toscanini and Beethoven

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Arturo Toscanini was famous for his outbursts of temper on the rostrum and ruled his orchestras with a rod of iron. His style is well suited to heroic music and one of his best interpretations is of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, heard here with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936. The dynamism is most evident in the last movement where Toscanini uses driving rhythm to propel the music ever forward.

Symphony no. 7 op. 92 A major

Photograph of Arturo Toscanini

To explore more Classical recordings, including over 400 recordings of Beethoven concertos, string quartets and symphonies, please visit British Library Sounds.

Follow @BL_Classical and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

04 September 2018

Sir Francis Chichester talks to Lady Chichester from Gipsy Moth IV

Dr Emma Greenwood, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage, writes:

Sir Francis Chichester’s record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe in 1966-1967 is a legendary accomplishment in yachting and sporting history. When he sailed back into Plymouth Sir Francis was greeted by a fleet of small boats, thousands of fans and a hysterical press.

This huge public interest was largely owing to the Marconi Kestrel radio telephone installed on board the yacht Gipsy Moth IV which enabled Sir Francis to send weekly newspaper despatches throughout his voyage.

This same radio set, however, also allowed Sir Francis to communicate, very occasionally, with his wife Lady Chichester. One of these rare conversations took place on 19 November 1966 and, fortunately for us, it was recorded and has now been preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

The recording itself is of poor quality, but this only reflects listening conditions at the time. Lady Chichester was on board the cruise ship SS Oriana at the time, on route to a planned rendezvous in Sydney, and the radio signal was weak and subject to lots of interference. Questions had to be repeated, voices raised, and speech slowed down. There was also an operator on the line throughout, so there was no privacy between the couple.

Sir Francis and Lady Chichester talking before Sydney (C1604/01)

In spite of the circumstances, both Sir Francis and Lady Chichester sound remarkably composed. Much of the 14 minute conversation is taken up with the exchange of essential information relating to their respective positions, rates of progress, weather conditions and expected arrival times into Sydney. It is hard to believe that this was the first time they had spoken in nearly three months, or imagine the dangers Sir Francis had already faced in his voyage.

Nevertheless, the ability to communicate via radio telephone, was clearly of great importance to both parties. After the voyage, Lady Chichester stated, ‘the radio communication with Gipsy Moth IV was something really marvellous, and the men who worked it were wonderful people’ (‘A Wife’s Part in High Adventure’ in Sir Francis Chichester, Gipsy Moth Circles the World (Bello, 2012), p. 249).As for Sir Francis, being able to speak directly to Lady Chichester provided a much-needed psychological boost. He signs off “very glad to hear your voice and you have all my love, all my love, goodbye, goodbye”. Later, he wrote in his account of the voyage, ‘It was a joy to hear her, and to be able to talk directly to her. This cheered me up immensely’ (Gipsy Moth Circles the World, p.93).

UOSH_Footer with HLF logo

06 May 2016

The Audio and Audio-Visual Academic Book of the Future - A Symposium

In 2015 the British Library Sound Archive began working in collaboration with Academic Book of the Future to ascertain the current landscape of research utilising audio and audio-visual content. Forty-two researchers responded to our audio-visual academic book survey (you can see that initial call out here.) Logo

From the respondents it’s been interesting to note that most researchers only utilise audio in a transcribed or written format. Thirty-eight of the researchers that completed our survey (90% of respondents) transcribed the audio that they were using. This is a colossal amount of work in some cases, and perhaps highlights some of the issues raised in Raphael Samuel’s seminal essay ‘Perils of the Transcript’* from 1972. In ‘Perils of the Transcript’, Samuel explored issues that arise when oral history interviews are transcribed and how meaning and emotion become subverted by the need to make the oral testimony readable - namely the use of punctuation. In what way can digital technologies help the researcher (from all disciplines of audio visual research) escape this peril which Samuels articulated 44 years ago? How does publishing need to evolve to best serve the audio visual researcher both now and in the future? Are we ready to give up the beloved CD, DVD or cassette?

Promo

As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play analogue sound carriers becomes increasingly limited. It is important to also consider the rate of decay for websites and digital links which is astoundingly high and not up to short-term (let alone long-term) archival preservation. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sounds project, the main preservation concern for our audio collections is not that the recordings themselves are at immediate risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment and digital operating platforms.

A symposium has been arranged on 23rd May 2016 to discuss the findings of the survey and hear presentations by publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. The symposium will be a forum to discuss the potential of the audio and audio-visual academic book of the future and ways of working together to fully explore that potential. 

Book to attend the Symposium here.

Find out more about Save our Sounds here, follow @SoundHeritage for live updates from our digitisation studio, @SoundArchive for tweets from the sound team, and use #SaveOurSounds to join the conversation on Twitter.

The symposium is generously supported by the British Library Labs project – http://labs.bl.uk

* Samuel, Raphael. Perils of the Transcript. Oral History. Vol. 1, No. 2 (1972), pp. 19-22

Steven Dryden - Sound & Vision Reference Specialist

04 March 2016

What does 'place poetry' look and sound like in the 21st century?

Last Friday the British Library hosted 'Beyond Bounds: Britain Re-Presented in Poetry', a performance of poetry readings by Anthony Joseph, Kayo Chingonyi, Jay Bernard and Vahni Capildeo.

The reading was followed by a discussion about the idea of place poetry in the 21st century.

None of the poets settled for a particular meaning of place. Perhaps because they are all well-travelled and have lived in a myriad of locations.  At one point in the discussion Anthony Joseph said 'place is in the mind’ and ‘home is where you want to be’. Vahni Capildeo told us that her heart belongs to Glasgow. Kayo Chingonyi talked about how London is a place that sucks you into itself. And Jay Bernard made it clear in her reading that place can be a whole made up thing which doesn’t even have to exist.

Anthony Joseph and Vahni CapildeoAnthony Joseph reading from the anthology Out of Bounds / Vahni Capildeo reading from Measures of Expatriation

Kayo Chingonyi and Jay BernardKayo Chingonyi reading from The Color of James Brown's Scream / Jay Bernard reading from The Red and Yellow Nothing.

The event marked the beginning of a 10-month series of complementary poetry events/activities which will take place all over the British Isles. It launched the Out of Bounds Poetry Project, which is administered by the Universities of Stirling and Newcastle and funded by the AHRC. The project is a follow-up from the poetry anthology Out of Bounds. British Black and Asian Poets (2012), edited by Jackie Kay, James Procter and Gemma Robinson, who is also one of the project leaders.

The Out of Bounds Poetry Project will generate online digital resources which will allow both poets and public to have a say on place poetry. More about this in a future post. All the audio material generated by the project will be archived by the British Library.

Overall the event was injected with humour and provocation. You can listen to the audio recording of the event in the Library’s reading rooms (BL reference C1717/1).

Listen to Anthony Joseph_The Ark [excerpt]

The British Library's sound collection is growing by 4000 recordings every month.  Access to collection items is either by appointment through the Listening and Viewing Service, or through the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue (at the Library premises only). Selected recordings are available to listen to online.

Find more about the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings and keep up with our activities on @BL_DramaSound.

Read about the British Library's Sound Archive preservation programme to digitise the nation's rare and unique sound recordings at Save Our Sounds programme and #SaveOurSounds.

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